By Brad Flory
Something smells fishy around here. And I mean that in a good way.
One of Jackson’s great but often-overlooked traditions is mouth-watering array of community fish fries found in church and club halls on Friday nights during Lent. This tradition is rooted in religion, but diners are not required to find spiritual significance in their meal. Many customers are like me. We’re not Catholic and we don’t give up anything for Lent, but each winter we yearn for the start of Fish Fry Season.
Fish fries are found in many towns, but Jackson is unsurpassed in both quantity and quality. If you doubt it, try a fish fry somewhere else and let your taste buds judge.
Not counting restaurants and bars, Jackson puts on outstanding fish fries at the Polish Falcons Hall, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Michigan Center, Queen of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church, and St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church. That is a remarkable number for a community the size of Jackson.
Jackson diners take fish fries seriously. Once at Fatima, I sat near a lady who secured a second helping of fish, then stuffed fillets into a plastic bag she pulled from her purse. She stashed the fish into her purse with no trace of sneakiness, making it clear that she considered her actions to be sanctioned by the phrase “all you can eat.”
Years ago, I accompanied Bart Hawley, the emperor of JTV, to the Polish Falcons kitchen to learn how fish dinners are prepared. The job required so much time and work that I was astonished anyone volunteers to do it seven weeks in a row. I don’t know how much profit comes by selling fish and side dishes at $10 or $12 a plate, but it must be partly a labor of love.
Unfortunately, community traditions do not last forever, no matter how much love is cooked into the labor.
Last fall’s closing of the European Bakery is a warning sign about local traditions taken for granted. To be honest – and I feel bad about this now – I rarely shopped at the European Bakery. But it was good to know that one-of-a-kind little bakery served Jackson families and businesses for more than a century. It was easy to imagine it would always be there.
Now we add the European Bakery to a long list of disappearing local traditions. This trend holds true not just in Jackson, but almost everywhere in a nation lurching toward cookie-cutter strip malls and lives lived online.
My point is this: Anyone who values the little places and customs that make a community unique ought to support the local traditions that still survive.
That’s the best reason to enjoy your fish, whether it’s on your plate or in your purse.